Awarding excellence for sweetpotato science and communication efforts in 2022

Sweetpotato is vital for the food security and nutrition of millions in the tropics, and research has shown that there is great potential to enhance its capacity to nourish the world. Key to achieving that potential is sharing knowledge and raising awareness, which is why International Potato Center (CIP) principal scientist and World Food Prize laureate Jan Low created two annual awards, of $500 each, to recognize outstanding efforts in new research and how to best communicate knowledge and raise awareness about this nutritious crop.

“My motivation for creating the endowment emerged from the World Food Prize,” explains Low. “Recognizing that the achievement was truly a team effort, I wanted to establish a way to thank the broader community of practice engaged in sweetpotato research and dissemination,  encourage researchers to publish excellent work concerning the crop, and recognize that without effective communication of our findings, the impact of our research would be limited.”

The latest recipients of the awards offer innovative examples of how scientists and communicators can contribute to greater consumption of nutritious food in areas at high risk of malnutrition. They also confirm the potential for using mobile phones to effect change in rural Africa.

Nutrition awareness

Five scientists associated with CIP and the University of Nairobi received the Best Sweetpotato Scientific Paper award for an article published in Current Developments in Nutrition on The Role of Targeted Nutrition Education of Preschoolers and Caregivers on Sustained Consumption of Biofortified Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato in Kenya. The authors used an approach that combines nutrition education of preschoolers with text messages on the importance of a healthy diet for children’s health and development sent to their parents’ mobile phones. The study results showed that the combination of approaches significantly improved the likelihood that the children would consume pro-vitamin-A, orange-fleshed sweetpotato.

“I’m thrilled and honored to share the award with my co-authors,” says Sylvester Ojwang, first author of the article. “Our goal was to examine if and how we could use text messages to improve OFSP consumption by rural farming households with preschool children, and we were very successful. This integrated approach effectively nudged the caregivers to make extra efforts to obtain orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes and prepare more nutritious meals.”

“I’m hopeful this research will inform the design of future nutrition programs and policies aimed at reducing vitamin A deficiency by ensuring regular consumption of vitamin A-biofortified sweetpotato among vulnerable groups,” he adds.

Accessible information

The winner of the Communication for Change Award is Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO), a US University-based program that has created two animated videos on the Triple S storage in sand technology that can be viewed and shared with a mobile phone. Triple S enables farmers in dry areas to store sweetpotatoes and used them to produce planting material in time for the first rains, which can improve their nutrition security and income. CIP scientists developed this technology and provided SAWBO with the technical input for the video, which can be viewed here.

It is one of more than 150 short-animated videos on agronomic and other innovations created and disseminated by SAWBO for small-scale farmers, who view and share them on smart phones. According to Barry Pittendrigh, who co-founded SAWBO in 2011, the organization has produced educational videos on more than 150 topics and gotten them translated into more than 280 languages or dialects. He says that those videos have been downloaded from YouTube and the SAWBO video library by people in 130 countries.

CIP has translated the Triple S videos into Portuguese for use in Mozambique, Malagasy for use in Madagascar and will be using them in Northern Ghana as well.

“SAWBO has worked extensively with WhatsApp networks to get videos easily transferred to local communities where local actors with cell phones can share them with other farmers,” Pittendrigh explains. “Our goal is to work with the research for development community to get innovations out to those that can use them to improve their lives.”